Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Scotland I: National Records of Scotland

In Edinburgh we visited two places, the National Records of Scotland and the Edinburgh Central Library.  At the National Records our tour was led by Margaret McBryde, the Education Officer.  She told us a bit of the history of the Records Office and of the recent changes that have occurred.  In April of this year the Records Office merged with the Scottish Government in a consolidation move.  Prior to April the department in which Margaret worked was the National Archives; the General Register Office for Scotland was its own entity.  Since the merge 6 buildings throughout Edinburgh are now used by the 450 employees of the NRS. 

The opinion of the employees in regards to the merger seems to be very positive.  It cut back on spending and reduced duplications.  The public didn’t really notice the difference; the archival and government records are accessible to them all in one place.  The NRS reports to the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs.  The merged departments now offer all of the information originally held by the National Archives of Scotland, ScotlandsPeople (a family history site), and the National Register of Archives in Scotland.  The National Register of Archives is a place for public members to voluntarily register their personal archives.  Some wealthy families have large collections and listing their records could help researchers discover important information.

The collection of records covers over 72 kilometers of shelf space, the earliest records are from the 12th C.  The records and services provided include births, marriages, deaths, the registry of tartans, deeds, Scottishpeople Centre, and the census since 1841.  The NRS have 6 public search rooms for patron use, and they operate 9 websites. 
main entrance
Margaret then explained some of the history of the buildings to us.  The General Register House was opened in 1789, it was purpose built to house national records.  The ground floor has since been converted into search spaces for patrons, a total of 170 people can be accommodated for research at one time.  Most of these search stations are for online access to electronic catalogs and some records.  Large parts of the records collections have been digitized, but not all.  In 1947 the History Search Room was opened.  This is on the second floor and provides a quieter more private environment for academic research. 

We were given the opportunity to view some items from the collection.  Several of them were really interesting.  I enjoyed getting a chance to read old handwriting.  The oldest item that we saw was a request for fireworks to celebrate the birth of James VI of Scotland.  Another fun item was a letter from a Scot fighting in the American Revolution for the Crown.  Reading his thoughts on the rebellion was interesting.  I’ve not seen much from the British perspective; it’s something I’d like to look into more at some point.

The websites have not yet been completely merged together so here’s a few of them.
National Records of Scotland website: http://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/
National Archives website: http://www.nas.gov.uk/
General Register website: http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/
ScotlandsPeople website: http://www.scotlandspeoplehub.gov.uk/

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